This week marks the 42nd birthday of NAMCO’s beloved Pac-Man. Everyone’s favorite yellow sphere is one of gaming’s first superstars. Not only that, but he continues to withstand the test of time. You can still find a classic Pac-Man machine in almost any arcade and new installments in the franchise are released each year.
Pac-Man’s stardom reached new heights when he was introduced to Smash on the Wii U. Since then, he has become synonymous with one exceptional player – Takuma “Tea” Hirooka. The young Smasher from Japan has shown the world Pac-Man’s true power in Ultimate. Thanks to his exciting playstyle and creativity, he has quickly become a fan favorite across the globe. To celebrate both Tea and his iconic main, here are five must-see matches from the man and his Pac-Man.
First Major Win - Thunder Smash 3 vs Marss
Tea found tons of domestic success early on in his Ultimate career. He won several Japanese tournaments in 2019 and finished 2nd in many others. Even when traveling overseas he impressed, making Top 8 at 2GG: Prime Saga, 2GG: Run It Back, and Mainstage 2019. Despite his performance, it took some time before Tea finally claimed that elusive first win at an international major.
That win came in October 2019 at Thunder Smash 3. Tea was already sitting pretty on the sinners side of the Grand Final, taking out names like Eric “ESAM” Lew and Brian “Cosmos” Kalu on the way. Coming up from Losers to face him was Tyler “Marss” Martins, who had fought his way back after dropping a set in Pools. The Zero-Suit Samus specialist continued his hot streak as he quickly stunned Tea 3-1 to reset the bracket.
Things did not start out great for Tea in the second set, as Marss two-stocked him right out the gate for a 1-0 lead. While he was certainly rattled, true champions rise through the toughest of moments. Tea changed his strategy to ledge trapping rather than challenge ZSS offstage. Using setups involving the Hydrant and Bell, Pac-Man became a wall of pain any time Marss found himself in disadvantage. The adaptation worked to perfection as Tea took three straight games to win the second set 3-1. It also resulted in one of the most legendary pop-offs of all time.
Impressive Even in Defeat - Frostbite 2020 vs MkLeo
Though some make it look easy, winning tournaments is no easy feat. Only one player can come out of top and brackets usually have well over 100 entrants. Advancing to the Grand Final is always the endgame, but beating several elite players is often required to get there. When in pursuit of glory, there’s never any shame in losing to the best of the best.
Tea and Leonardo “MkLeo” Lopez Perez have crossed paths on numerous occasions. One of their most memorable sets was during Top 8 at Frostbite 2020. Both players were in the Losers bracket with their tournament lives on the line. The two titans traded games as they battled through a match that came down to the final moment.
After the third game, Tea had a 2-1 lead and looked poised to take the set and send MkLeo packing. Unfortunately when you come at the king, you best not miss. Leo took Game 4 fairly convincingly and clutched out a final game that went down to the wire. A crucial error cost Tea the match and his hope of advancing to the Losers Final. Still, he went toe-to-toe with the world’s best and was one errant forward-smash away from potentially winning the set.
The (Pac-) Man in Japan - Kagaribi 3 vs Atelier
The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to nearly all international Smash competition. Since it was unsafe to travel, individual communities were forced to stay within their regions. While this was a huge blow to the global scene, it did lead to the creation of some great new events. The most impactful of these was Japan’s newest series of Major tournaments, Kagaribi.
Tea missed out on the first Kagaribi but made his presence known in the second installment. At Kagaribi 3 (since it was canceled, Kagaribi 2 never actually happened), he cruised into Winners Finals. However, that hot streak was doused by Towa “Atelier” Kuriyama as Japan’s best Pokemon Trainer squeezed out a close set 3-2. Tea would triumph in another back-and-forth set with Akakikusu to earn his runback with Atelier in the Grand Final.
Making adjustments between matches is essential to overcoming defeat. Tea must’ve taken a ton of notes during his first meeting with Atelier because he wasted little time resetting the bracket 3-1. The second set was more of the same, as Tea reeled off another 3-1 victory to avenge his only loss of the tournament twice back-to-back. While Atelier is certainly one of Japan’s best players, Tea simply outplayed him in their Grand Final rematch.
Cross-Continental Champion - Temple: Hermes Edition vs Glutonny
Fun fact: Tea is the only Smasher to win a Major for Ultimate on three different continents. After taking Thunder Smash 3 in North America and Kagaribi 3 in Japan, Tea’s third Major win came at Temple: Hermes Edition in France. He was one of three Japanese players at the European tournament, all of which made Top 8.
To reach the Grand Final, Tea actually sent his fellow countrymen Seisuke “Kome” Komeda and Kengo “KEN” Suzuki down to Losers in back-to-back matches. Along the way he defeated some of Europe’s most talented players, including Ramin “Mr.R” Delshad and Tarik Fayazi. Emerging from the Losers bracket to face Tea was the true final boss and Europe’s best player, William “Glutonny” Belaid.
Tea and Gluto traded the first two games but the Frenchman won Game 3 to take a 2-1 advantage. A racucus French crowd rallied behind their champion Wario main from the stands of the Stade Pierre-Mauroy football stadium the event was held in. Down in the first set, Tea still had one more to work with in case he lost another game.
To the dismay of the home crowd, a second set wouldn’t be necessary. Once again Tea showed off his brilliant adaptability and took the next two games to win the tournament. Even the disappointed French supporters couldn’t help but clap for the Japanese champion. Highlights from Tea’s comeback include a god-like Bell setup to end Game 4 and a galaxy-brained Power Pellet callout to cap it all off.
Hanging with the Best of Them - Mainstage 2021 vs Tweek
Tea is consistently listed in or near the Top 10 in numerous official rankings. With numerous tournament wins and Top 8 appearances, his resume speaks for itself. Earning wins over other highly ranked players is a bonus way to boost your ranking. For some, it can be easy to fold in the presence of a top player, but this Pac-Man fears no one.
Often regarded as the #1 player in the United States, Tweek is unquestionably one of the world’s five best players. With 1st place trophies for Glitch, Frostbite, and Smash Ultimate Summit on his mantle, few Smashers have as many accomplishments as Tweek.
Tea and Tweek have played three Ultimate sets in Major tournaments, splitting the first two. The rubber match came during Losers Top 8 at Mainstage 2021. The two continued their back-and-forth affair in an evenly-matched contest. Up 2-1, Tweek came this close to eliminating Tea before having the tables turned, forcing a Game 5. Tea often performs best with his back against the wall and once again clutched out a close final game to take the set. He would go on to finish 4th at the event, good enough to book himself a trip to Smash Ultimate Summit 4.